Blame it on one too many bites of factory farmed pork ribs on Labor Day, but we can't stop saying, "Oh dear God" -- while being entirely mesmerized by -- The Ultimate Guide to Home Butchering by Monte Burch. Meat and religion tend to have that effect.
But wait, there's more substance here. Other recent butchery books hail from knife-yielders in swanky San Francisco and New York digs, and serve up pretty pictures of their pristine white carcass carving activities that yield Brentwood-worthy New York steaks. Burch, a longtime outdoors writer, includes the carotid artery slashing stage. In his backyard. Just like, as he references often, the "old-timers" once did. It is the most revolting "amateur" butchery guidebook to land on our desk.
And also the most compelling, honest, and by far the most humane butchery book we've seen. If you're going to eat a pork chop, is there anything more humane than knowing "It's important to make a good killing shot, with a quick death for quality meat," as Burch describes it?
You already know what happens on the next page, but turn the page if you want more.
Here, forearms are shown going up the back end of still-bloody carcasses (viewer discretion advised). There are detailed descriptions on how to kill an individual chicken (we'll stop at: "the head is pulled down and slightly out ..."), and pictures of an awfully cute baby deer in fresh snow with a caption that reads: "as with domestic livestock, younger animals are the best choice for tenderness and have a less 'gamey' flavor." It's remarkable, actually, how effective photos from an amateur photographer are -- in an age when we expect even a blogger to have a professional home studio (Burch, clearly, does not). The subject might have something to do with it.
That also means that if you're trying to convince your closest friend to become vegan, this book might do it. Or, should you be a meat eater, this book might very well become essential for a Friday night, pre-grilling flip-though reminder. We all might not know why we need to "carefully cut off the oil gland" from chicken, how to wet, wax and dry pluck a duck, or why a tool like that $12.99 Hunter's Specialties Butt Out makes quick work of removing a deer's anal canal and the noxious feces that comes with it -- but really, shouldn't we?
We should. Because reading how to aim a bullet at a hog's head to stun them (complete with a diagram) before going for the carotid artery is compelling, even if we swear we could never do that. And as Burch seems to deeply understand, butchering an animal -- really butchering, from start to finish -- makes us think about what is on our plate in a way that chefs who say they serve the most humanely, pasture-raised meats cannot.
Burch reminds us that butchering "chores" were typically done in the backyard, not in a factory farm. And certainly not in a room full of people who paid $100 to show up at weekend food events and watch the latest tattooed, butchers du jour chop up a carcass for entertainment's sake. Butchering was done, at one time, respectfully. The animal was killed as quickly as possible, and then, and only then, did people worry about the flavor side of things like aging a carcass (shown here in full animal, pre-skinning detail).
As Burch reminds between pictures of himself as a child on his family's farm, true home butchering was also done back when "lard was the cooking of the old-timers until it became a health concern." Or a $30 restaurant dish. Because "home butchering was a necessity for man," Burch says. "You can save a great deal of money, and if you raise your own livestock, have even more control over your food."
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In other words, in today's factory farming era, you can have more control over how humanely that animal is raised and butchered. Carotid artery slashing and all.
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